In the predawn quietude of a late October morning, mask and bags tucked in my pocket, I leash my dog Bo, slip out of our suite at the Inn by the Sea, and pad along a boardwalk descending to Crescent Beach. Part of a 243-acre state park in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, the beach throngs with families during the summer months.
We have it to ourselves.
On the beach, it’s easy to forget that Portland, Maine’s largest city and a hot destination for culinary travelers, is 15 minutes away. Grassy dunes, where protected piping plovers nest in the early summer, edge this mile-long sand swath. A mix of woodlands and wetlands back the dunes. A rocky headland, pockmarked with tide pools at low tide, and mostly undeveloped Richmond Island frame the southern end. Lobster boats bobbing on moorings in Kettle Cove frame the northern end.
As for the open Atlantic views: “Next stop, Spain,” my mother used to say.
That was then, this is now
Bo & I walk northward, continuing on the path skirting the Kettle Cove section of the park. We stop frequently; Bo to sniff, me to watch the day begin. While much has changed since I grew up in this town, this view has not. Nor has the briny scent of seaweed riding on an ocean breeze, the gentle salt-and-sand skin scrub, the relentless, mesmerizing ebb and flow of waves breaking and retreating, and sea salt seasoning my lips. Add a chowder fog and the bellow of a distant fog horn, and I’m back in my childhood.
This place is embedded in my life’s story. And, whenever I return, waves of bittersweet memories wash over me. When I was young, the beloved-but-tired Crescent Beach Inn stood on this site. Every milestone, from birthdays to anniversaries to graduations, was celebrated here.
When the Inn by the Sea rose in its place, I was out on my own and didn’t pay much attention. But, eventually, when I returned home for celebrations, the inn again became our go-to. When my mother died and was buried just down the road, we gathered here with relatives and friends afterward. When my dad turned 90, the inn’s accessibility made it the ideal place for family to gather. And, when he passed a few days later, we closed his life as he would have wanted, with lunch at the inn.
Truth is, the Inn by the Sea has morphed over the decades. Opened as upscale boutique hotel by the beach, it’s now a tony destination with an international reputation. Top tier publications regularly praise its green, family-friendly, and dog-friendly policies.
The owners and staff have never let that stellar rep go to their heads. Regular updates keep the inn climbing the social ladder without losing its Maine character or acquiring a pompous ‘tude. At its core, the Inn by the Sea remains an unpretentious luxury beach hotel, one that welcomes families and dogs, strives for sustainability, and pampers all guests, whether human or canine.
Green & giving Inn by the Sea
Eco-conscious guests will appreciate the Inn by the Sea’s commitment to the environment. Not only is it a green built and environmentally-friendly operation, it’s committed to making the world — or at least its little piece of it — a better place.
Head Gardener Derrick Daly uses predominantly indigenous plants to create a sustainable, chemical- and pesticide-free landscape. The result: gorgeous gardens and lush green lawns that support native wildlife. The property is a Monarch Watch-certified butterfly way station. It also has restored habitat — rabitat — on the adjacent state park property to help the endangered New England cottontail rabbit.
During the summer season, Daly gives weekly, complimentary garden tours and Great Pond wildlife walks. But, I’ve found even when he’s out and about working, he always takes time to answer guests’ questions related to gardening. The inn also offers classes in how to plant for wildlife and beach ecology, and a Bug’s Life Garden Tour for children, during which they dress like bugs and learn about the ecosystem from a bug’s point of view (you’ll never step on an ant or swat a fly again).
Menus promote fresh and local foods — many ingredients are sourced within the community
In the Sea Glass restaurant, Chef Andrew Chadwick partners with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and supports its Out of the Blue program promoting lesser-known fish. This program benefits biodiversity and helps local fishermen expand their markets. His menus promote fresh and local foods — many ingredients are sourced within the community, and he offers a vegan special nightly.
The inn also gives back to the community through programs that provide librarian-requested books for local schools, food for local food banks, and warm clothing for shelters.
The Inn by the Sea’s crisp and contemporary beach-chic decor emphasizes comfort and practicality without sacrificing elegance. Think bright and breezy with a nautical vibe. And, of course if offers the amenities expected of a boutique luxury hotel (e.g. white high-thread-count bamboo sheets, slippers, cozy robes, marble bathrooms with deep soaking tubs and separate showers). One especially thoughtful touch: a small set of in-room binoculars for spying wildlife or watching passing boats.
Big windows bring the outside in, and most accommodations also have a deck, patio, or balcony angled for maximum water views. Gas fireplaces in all deluxe rooms and suites make it easy to warm up on chilly evenings or inclement days.
Cove suites and beach suites, all with two bedrooms, have kitchens and front-and-back, direct-to-outside entries. A few of the beach suites are tricked out with two-sided indoor-outdoor fireplaces that let you gaze at the water through flickering flames. Sure, the great outdoors beckons, but so too does curling up fireside with a glass of wine and a good book.
An outdoor shower at the head of the boardwalk connecting to the beach makes it easy to rinse off the sand after beach time. Dedicated dog towels help dry off man’s best friend. All of which help keep the sand on the shore instead of in a room or suite.
Outside entertainment includes lawn games and firepits (s’mores!) as well as an outdoor solar-heated, saline pool (summer season). But, if you’re looking for inside entertainment, ask the inn for its art tour brochure and enjoy a self-guided tour of museum-quality works that pair well with the setting. Among the distinguished artists represented in the inn’s collection: Alfred T. Bricher, Eric Hopkins, Maurice Freedman, and Stephen Etnier.
Local outdoor recreation a plenty
All that’s nice, but what I wanted to do was hunker down, avoid interacting with others, and spend part of each day enjoying the outdoors. And that’s easy to do at the Inn by the Sea. Crescent Beach and Kettle Cove are just a taste of the local, natural treasures. Bring snowshoes or cross-country skis to enjoy the trails and beach in winter; some also allow fat-tire biking.
Just 0.2 mile from the inn is Great Pond Preserve, a freshwater pond and marsh accessible only by trail. The easy-moderate, 1.5-mile trail echoes the eastern shoreline, passing through wildlife-rich fields and forests .
In theory, it’s possible to walk or ride a bike to Two Lights State Park, the easternmost point in town, but I’ve always driven there to enjoy the nearly two miles of trails on 41 acres of rocky headlands (entry fee charged). During summer, punctuate a visit with lunch or dinner at Two Lights Lobster Shack, a real-deal lobster shack on the ledges complete with crashing surf and diving seagulls.
As a kid, I played in Robinson’s Woods. That was long before this undeveloped treasure became the 145-acre Robinson Woods Preserve. More than four miles of networked trails lace woodlands and fields, crossing streams, edging vernal ponds, and climbing rocky hills. Among the treasures here: centuries-old white pine, red oak, and hemlock trees, as well as plentiful wildlife.
Another 2.8 trail miles web is the adjacent Stonegate Preserve. These trails link Robinson Woods to my other childhood playground, Fort Williams. This former military base, now a 90-acre oceanfront town park, is home to Portland Head Light. Commissioned in by George Washington and first lit in 1791, it is one of—if not the—country’s most photographed beacons. The 0.4-mile Cliff Walk delivers spectacular views.
Covid-19 protocols at the Inn by the Sea
This seaside inn makes it easy to cocoon in comfort. It’s possible to avoid human interaction, making it an especially good escape during this Covid-19 era. Perhaps that’s why some families and individuals are schooling and/or working remotely from here.
Touch-free, curbside check-in means guests don’t have to enter the main inn. Three housekeeping options allow guests to choose what level of service meets their desires and needs. Room service is delivered to the door, not into the room. The Fitness Center is by appointment with a maximum of four people working out simultaneously. Spa hours are reduced, steam rooms and experience showers are closed, and advance reservations are required for spa treatments. More info on the Inn by the Sea’s Covid-10 protocols is available here.
The inn offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and Chef Chadwick prepares excellent fare. Should you want to dine by reservation in the pub or restaurant (both with socially distanced tables and dog-friendly seating options), you may. But, if you prefer to keep to yourself, room service and/or cooking, opt for a cove or beach suite.
During my stay, the weather was warm enough to dine on the restaurant’s deck, with heaters providing warmth as evening temperatures dropped. In normal times, dogs may dine with their owners here or in the pub and order off the full Sea Glass restaurant menu. This year because of Covid, the inn has repurposed a conference room for another indoor dog-friendly dining venue.
Bring or take home a friend
The Inn by the Sea defines dog friendly; it walks the walk, talks the talk, and wags the tail. Through its partnership with the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland (program currently suspended due to Covid-19), the inn has placed more than 150 dogs in permanent homes since 2015. When the league places a dog at the inn, the staff walks, feeds, and cares for it. That is, when guests aren’t doing so, as they’re encouraged to walk and play with the shelter special. Truth is, it’s rare for a dog to be at the inn for more than a week before going home with a guest; some don’t last more than a day.
Late in the afternoon on the day before we depart, Bo and I head out on another beach walk. Neither of us in a hurry; we stop frequently for sniffing and savoring the moment. As dusk cloaks the sky, we mosey slowly back to the inn, arriving as the lights come on welcoming us home.
Dusk at the Inn by the Sea
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- Green-built and operated beachfront boutique luxury hotel with excellent restaurant and spa.
- Accommodations ranging from traditional rooms and suites in the main inn to two-bedroom suites with direct-from-outside entry.
- The Inn by the Sea is about a two-hour drive from Greater Boston and 20 minutes from the Portland Jetport, which is served by all major commercial airlines as also accommodates private and charter flights.
- Covid-19: Maine has three options for visitors from other states: 1) getting a recent negative COVID-19 test; 2) maintaining compliance with upon arrival in Maine; 3) being exempted from the testing or quarantine requirement for residents of some states. Details here.
- The inn and its amenities are fully accessible, but the boardwalk to the beach has gentle steps.
- The Inn by the Sea is especially dog friendly.
IF YOU GO
- For more information, visit Inn by the Sea
Photo credits: Lead photo courtesy of the Inn by the Sea. All other images credit Hilary Nangle
If you live on the West Coast, consider Carlsbad, California, for a beach getaway
Disclosure: The Inn by the Sea hosted the author but any opinions are her own.
For more info about staying with your dog the Inn by the Sea read Hilary’s post Dog-friendly Inn by the Sea pampers pups and people on her blog, MaineTravelMaven.
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